Cuba Libre?

Resuming ties will bring political and social benefits to both nations.

Today: U.S. flag over Cuba
BOB: The United States and Cuba recently reopened their embassies in both countries that had been shuttered for 54 years. It’s about time. Yes, the Castro regime has been a human rights menace, but remember that Washington briefly recognized it after it overthrew the corrupt government of President Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Previous efforts to oust Castro failed, including the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and numerous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. It is long past time to try a different approach.

CAL: Unlike many conservatives, I am cautiously supportive of the renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Congress has the final say on when, or if, sanctions should be removed. They should be lifted, if at all, in increments and conditioned on progress on human rights. That includes the release of political prisoners and the repatriation of criminals wanted in the U.S. Leveraging more freedom for the Cuban people should also be a goal of U.S. policy.

BOB: Our embargo has devastated Cuba’s economy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to severe poverty and food shortages. After Hurricane Michelle hit Cuba in 2001, Cuba agreed to purchase food and medicine from the U.S. under the eased sanctions the U.S. Congress passed in 2000. Until fairly recently, the U.S. has been Cuba’s main food supplier. Although the embargo has not been completely lifted and travel to Cuba is still restricted, new diplomatic relations and some increased travel are a good beginning.

CAL: Bob, communism is what caused the most harm to the Cuban economy, but I’m a believer in light overcoming darkness. While increased tourism will boost the Cuban economy, visitors will be able to share information about the U.S. and the world. These could contribute to a movement that will someday free Cuba from the Castro brothers.

BOB: By 58% to 24% in a recent CBS News poll, Americans favor the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and 81% want no restrictions on travel. The American people are ahead of the politicians, though President Obama deserves credit for his leadership.

CAL: President Nixon opened the door to China, which most people regard as a good thing. Cuba is one of the last relics of the Cold War. Not having diplomatic relations for more than half a century has not brought freedom to the island. You’re right; it’s time to try something different. You can’t have a positive influence on nations if you don’t talk to their leaders, North Korea and a few other rogue regimes being notable exceptions. What are some of the benefits you see from our new relationship with Cuba?

BOB: First, both our economies will benefit, Cuba’s more then ours. It’s important to remember that before Castro, U.S. corporations established subsidiaries in Cuba and sold billions of dollars worth of American products to the Cubans. Second, Cuba’s allies — especially Russia and Venezuela — will lose influence in the Caribbean region, which they established because of close ties with Cuba. That alone is a long-range benefit to the United States.

CAL: Nevertheless, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s reservations should be taken seriously. In a statement, the Republican presidential candidate, whose parents came from Cuba, says renewing diplomatic relations “threatens America’s moral standing in our hemisphere and around the world, brings legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror, and further empowers an ally of China and Russia.”

BOB: That’s Cold War thinking, Cal. Cuba has more to fear from this new relationship than we do when it comes to maintaining its dictatorship. Perhaps the most important benefit to come out of this will be the enhancement of our national security.

CAL: How so?

BOB: In 1962, the Soviet Union placed nuclear weapons in Cuba capable of devastating major U.S. cities. President Kennedy blockaded Cuba, and the Russians finally withdrew their missiles. That was the closest the United States has ever come to a nuclear war. That will never happen again with Cuba as an ally.

CAL: Cuba is not going to be an “ally” anytime soon. The best policy going forward is to watch the government’s behavior and use new diplomatic relations and the possibility of a gradual lifting of sanctions as a wedge to enhance freedom and a better life for the Cuban people.

BOB: Cal, you are a huge baseball fan, as are the Cubans. There is enormous talent in Cuba for Major League Baseball to exploit. Someday, I predict an expansion team in Cuba. For those of us who enjoy good cigars, the new relationship with Cuba could allow imports of Cuban cigars, the best in the world. I can’t wait!

CAL: I knew we would get to your real motives! I recall President Kennedy asking his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to buy as many Cuban cigars as he could before Kennedy ordered a trade embargo against Cuba. Salinger found 1,200 of them. We had “ping pong” diplomacy with China. Maybe baseball diplomacy will help open the prison doors and contribute to a freer press and competing political parties. But I think without regime change in Cuba, the Washington baseball team will win its first World Series since 1924 before all of these things happen.